Understanding where you’re at now is a vital first step when considering a new direction.
by Tuvya Zaretsky | January 11 2023
“I am dating someone who is Jewish, and we are talking about getting married. I had a Christian upbringing. My partner is asking me to convert to Judaism and wants to raise our future children to be Jewish. I am open to this but wanting to learn more.”
— Caite in Texas*
We get emails like Caite’s all the time. People often tell us, “When we talk about the future, it gets awkward—especially when we discuss religion, our families’ expectations, and raising children.” Sound familiar? Maybe you’ve been surprised or even confused to discover that certain words that mean one thing to you mean something totally different to your Jewish partner. You might find yourself wondering, Would converting to Judaism help us resolve these issues?
The fact that you are thinking about this says so much about you and the depth of your heart. You obviously love your partner. You want your relationship to grow and to last. You are willing to explore whatever it might take to make it work, and that’s not easy. We assume you are reading this article because you are looking for resources and points of view about converting to Judaism, and we can offer both. We suggest you begin by asking yourself two essential questions:
1.What is my current religious or spiritual identity?
2.How would I expect converting to Judaism to help me?
We believe that understanding where you’re at now is a vital first step when considering a new direction. Clarifying your expectations about how such a change might or might not help you is also crucial. We hope that some of our questions and observations will add a helpful perspective. So let’s get started!
We all have a deeply felt sense of identity that reminds us of who we are, what gives our lives meaning and value—what makes us feel at home in our own skin. Since this identity goes beyond our physical makeup, it is consciously or unconsciously rooted in some kind of spiritual belief. What does that look like for you?
What are your core beliefs, your non-negotiables? Your hopes, joys, experiences, and beliefs may change as you open up to new people, new experiences, and new information. But before considering any major change to your identity, it makes sense to carefully consider who you are now. If you are reading this because, like Caite, you were raised in a Christian home, what did that involve?
For some, being raised in a Christian home simply means family get-togethers for Christmas and Easter, and maybe an occasional visit to church for special events. But for many, it involves (or once involved) deeply held beliefs about Jesus. Take time to reflect on what your Christian upbringing means to you. If it’s not important to you now, might it possibly become more important in the future? Seeds of faith planted in childhood sometimes spring to life unexpectedly years later.
Whether you never accepted Christian beliefs for yourself, or once believed but are now doubting, this could be a good time to explore those beliefs before setting them aside as secondary or irrelevant to the relationship with the man or woman you love.
Let your openness to discovery include what’s in your own heart. Ask yourself, Does my core identity include a relationship with Jesus? Would you feel “at home” with the idea that you would no longer openly identify with Jesus, celebrate him, speak to him in prayer in front of your spouse, or share your faith in him with your loved ones, including your children? Because while your Jewish partner may not ask this of you, converting to Judaism probably would.
You can find more on that specific question in this article from our Jewish Gentile Couples website: What Would Converting to Judaism Require of Me?
Allow yourself time to reflect on your answers to these questions. If you’ve been having heated conversations with your partner when discussing each other’s beliefs, don’t rush past that friction. Pause to ask yourself, Why are we upset? What are we defending? What is causing us to feel misunderstood? You can’t answer for your partner, but you can always ask God, “Show me what is beneath these feelings I’m having.”
Finally, if your partner hasn’t asked you to convert, don’t assume that he or she would want you to do so.
The awkwardness between you might be coming from a different place: perhaps a concern that you will expect your partner to change, or that they would not be able to pass on their Jewishness to their children. I’ve met many Jewish people who understand that the qualities they love in their Christian partner are very much an expression of their identity as believers in Jesus. They would never want to take that away.
Once you have taken the time to understand where you are at now, it’s time to explore your reasons for considering converting to Judaism.
Your motives are closely connected with your expectations, and healthy relationships depend on being realistic about both. That’s why, when people begin a process of conversion to Judaism, one of the first questions a rabbi will wisely ask is, “Why do you want to convert?” We suggest you begin answering that question for yourself right now.
Of course, you are hoping to find common ground in your relationship, but it will help if you drill down to the specific ways you see that happening if you were to convert. We’ve listed the most common motives that people in your situation have shared with us when they think about converting to Judaism.
The desire to understand the culture of someone you love is beautiful. Just be careful not to load potentially unrealistic expectations onto it. Some people hope their interest in Judaism will lead their Jewish partner to be similarly interested in exploring faith in Jesus—and that’s not always realistic.
Does your Jewish partner reciprocate your interest in Judaism by asking questions about Christian practices and beliefs? Or do they love you but prefer to leave “the J-word” out of your conversations? It’s awesome if you both develop an equal interest in spirituality. Mutual respect and appreciation are good signs; an opposite situation signals caution.
That’s not to discourage you from learning about what it means to be Jewish. As Jewish believers in Jesus, we love that you want to know more! There are many ways that you can demonstrate your sincere appreciation of Jewish heritage, values, and beliefs without converting. We would be happy to provide resources and tips to help you acculturate. “Acculturation” is a process of learning about another person’s culture and incorporating aspects of it into your own life. It’s different from conversion because it’s embracing and participating in someone else’s culture without necessarily replacing your own.
Maybe you wonder, “Would my converting to the Jewish faith please God or bring me closer to Him?” The Bible provides the best information about what pleases God, so it makes sense to look there for the answer to that question.
The story of Ruth is a wonderful example of a non-Jew who had faith in the God of Israel. She was a Moabite who loved the one true God and had a place of honor in His plans. She never went through a formal conversion ceremony to any religion, nor has she ever been referred to as being Jewish. Ruth’s faith—not being Jewish—is all that got her there. And she became the great grandmother of King David, from whom “the son of David” (one of Jesus’ Messianic titles) came.
In Bible times, Gentiles (like Ruth) joined with Jewish people by intermarrying and assimilating. As they naturalized, they lost their former beliefs and cultures. They became citizens by settling in the land and having Jewish children with the people. Someone who joined the Jewish people in this way was a “sojourner” or ger ( גֵר ) and a “resident” or toshav ( תוֹשָׁב ).1
The story of Ruth is iconic, and it is consistent with the way in which Gentiles could be welcomed into the Jewish community in Bible times. Nowhere does the Bible talk about any formal conversion to Judaism. In fact, Judaism isn’t even mentioned in the Jewish Bible. God talks about His people, the Jewish people, in terms of a covenant relationship, not a religion. That relationship is based on His promises.
The Bible shows that being born into Jewish families or somehow just being Jewish was never the basis for closeness to God. God chose the Jewish people to receive His love by faith to shine His light to the nations, drawing people to know and love Him. The Jewish Scriptures are very candid about God’s faithfulness to the Jewish people, including the theme of God’s grace, patience, and promise-keeping power time and time again when His people go astray.
As Messianic Jews, we believe that God’s story throughout the Jewish Bible points to the ultimate blessing of Jesus, the Jewish Messiah. So, let me ask, if you already believe in him, how would conversion to Judaism complete your faith? You have already gained the prize! Like Ruth, by faith you are already part of God’s forever family.
It’s true that good parenting includes agreement between Mom and Dad about how and what they teach their children about God. As a minister, I’ve seen couples approach that in different ways. In some cases, parents look for common ground in what they believe, and as the children get older, they explain the differences. In other cases, one parent defers to the other’s beliefs. When that happens, it’s usually because the one who deferred does not have strongly held beliefs. If you both have strongly held beliefs, but only one of you gets to pass on your beliefs to your children, it might not exactly simplify things. If you agree not to talk to your children about your faith, it might satisfy your partner’s concerns. But what about your concerns? If the cost of keeping peace is silence about your own convictions about what is true, ask yourself if that’s a price you can afford to pay, not only as a spouse, but as a parent.
At some point, your children will mature and decide for themselves what they do and don’t believe. It’s not necessary, and may be hurtful, for them to grow up hearing only one parent’s strongly held convictions. Imagine how your children might feel later in life if they realize their need for salvation in Jesus—and wonder why you never told them about him.
As long as there is mutual respect between Mom and Dad, sharing more than one belief with your children need not be confusing. It might help you to know that Jewish people have various ideas about what it means to raise children to be Jewish. There is far more to being Jewish than not believing in Jesus!
Just as you can appreciate and embrace your partner’s Jewishness through acculturation, you can raise your children to celebrate Jewish holidays, care about certain Jewish causes, and participate in the Jewish community without having to convert or be silent about your own beliefs. If that is not enough to satisfy your potential husband or wife, it would be good to discuss why.
All of us want to feel secure, accepted for who we are. That’s why I suggested that you begin this process by clarifying your own religious or spiritual identity—what your Christian upbringing means to you and what your non-negotiables are. If Jesus is important to you, you’ll want your partner’s family and friends to respect that, just as you’ll need to respect their wishes about whether they are willing to hear about your beliefs.
The Bible tells us that love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (I Corinthians 13:7). God’s agape love is unconditional, seeking to serve the other. That’s the kind of love you want to give as well as receive when choosing a life partner. Here’s a good test: Would you expect your Jewish partner to become a Christian as a condition of being accepted by your family and friends? What if they told you that would mean abandoning their people or an essential part of their identity? In the same way, is it reasonable for someone who loves you to ask that you abandon your beliefs in Jesus your Savior in order to be accepted by his or her community?
By taking a closer look at your current spiritual identity, and by thinking through your reasons for considering converting to Judaism, we hope that you will have a clearer idea of what you want and how you might best seek spiritual harmony with your Jewish partner.
You will find many more resources that you can explore on your own or with your partner at jewishgentilecouples.com. If you would like to discuss these matters further, we would love to hear from you. You can book a conversation with one of our ministers: connect. There is no charge and no pressure for you or your partner to embrace our point of view.
*Name has been changed to protect privacy.
1. Leviticus 19:10 and 23:22.